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Latest effort to save miner pensions unveiled

By KEN WARD JR.

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Coalfield political leaders and the United Mine Workers union are resuming their effort to protect the pension benefits for tens of thousands of retired miners and their families.

UMW President Cecil Roberts

On Tuesday, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., joined UMW leaders and members for a news conference to mark the introduction of the American Miners Protection Act.

The bill aims to continue the progress made earlier this year, when Congress approved a measure that provided funding for health care benefits for 22,000 retired miners and their families. UMW officials and supporters have been pushing a bipartisan solution to the financial troubles of union pension and health care plans but, so far, have been able to win passage only of the health care benefit piece of their plan.

“We’re pumped up to move forward and continue with this struggle,” UMW President Cecil Roberts said.

Retired miners have been facing financial uncertainty because a key UMW pension plan is severely underfunded, after suffering significant investment losses during the 2008 Wall Street financial crisis and the downturn of the coal industry that forced some major producers into bankruptcy. At risk are the pensions of nearly 87,000 miners who are currently receiving them and another 20,000 who have vested in the plan, Manchin said.

“We’ve got to fix this,” Manchin said during the Washington, D.C., news conference.

Like previous bills, the American Miners Protection Act would help fund the UMW pensions through the transfer of general tax dollars that already flow through the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program, as part of a complex formula that provides additional money for the mine cleanup program and the UMW benefits program. The new bill also includes language that would direct the Treasury Department to loan the UMW pension program money to help prevent insolvency.

“We know we have our work cut out for us,” Capito said.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at [email protected], 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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